The Apocrypha, Lesson 18: Lutheranism’s Love Affair with Sirach

Medieval Manuscript of Sirach 2Intro

For this first lesson on Sirach, we are breaking protocol.  When your pastor started preparing this lesson, he found an extensive use of Sirach in the history of the Lutheran Church.  So, he decided in the lesson to cover some of Sirach through our Lutheran fathers, continuing with the rest later.


Martin Luther (1483-1546)

18, LutherLuther later explaining his 95 Theses

Every doctrine of Christ is an exhortation to penitence and points to the fact that men should turn from the devil, the sooner, the better.  As Ecclesiasticus says, “Do not delay to turn back to the Lord” [Sirach 5:7].

  • How does this quote support Luther’s primary thesis, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ … intended the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”?


Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray

Nothing is more important than making sure your heart is free and cheerful when you pray.  As Sirach says, “Prepare your heart for prayer, and do not put the Lord to the test” [Sirach 18:23, based on Luther’s Die Bibel].

  • How does Luther understand the connection between prayer and putting God to the test?


The Fifth Commandment: “Do not kill.”  God requires me to love my neighbor so that I should do him no harm concerning his body, either with words or with deeds … In this commandment, God commands me to protect my neighbor’s body and also commands my neighbor to protect my own.  As Sirach says, “He has committed to each of us his neighbor” [Sirach 9:14, Die Bibel].

  • How does Sirach broaden God’s command not to murder into more than not doing something wrong?


Luther’s Use of Sirach to Comfort Justas Jonas

For [our] affairs are in the hands of him who dares to say most audaciously, “No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).  I do not want them to be in our hands, and it would not be well advised, either.  I had so many things in my hands and have lost everything; I have not retained one thing.  Yet what I have been able to throw out of my hands onto him, this I have retained safe and sound to this day.  For it is true, “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1) and “Who was ever put to shame who put his hope in the Lord?” (Sirach 2:10).

  • What does Luther say will fail the person?


  • In the end, who will not fail the person?


Luther and Medical Doctors

Read Exodus 15:22-25a

Sirach 38:1-8:

1 Honor the physician with the honor due him, according to your need of him, for the Lord established him.  2 For his gift of healing comes from the Most High, and he is rewarded by the king.  3 The skill of the physician makes him distinguished, and in the presence of the great, he is admired.  4 The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them.  5 Was not water made sweet with a tree so that his [God’s] power might be known?

  • According to Sirach, how does God work his healing for us?


  • So who are we to see at work behind the doctor?


  • How are we to view the proper use of medicine?


6 And he [God] gave skill to men that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.  7 By them the physician heals and takes away pain; 8 the pharmacist makes a compound out of them.  Thus God’s work continues, and from him, health is upon the face of the earth.

  • When we properly honor the doctor, whom do we ultimately honor? (Think of other biblical examples of this principle)


Luther’s Works, Vol 46, pg. 253:

We can see with our own eyes that the physicians are lords; experience teaches clearly that we cannot do without them.  It is not the practice of medicine alone, however, but Scripture too that shows it to be a useful, comforting, and salutary estate, as well as a service acceptable to God, made and founded by him.  In Ecclesiasticus 38 [:1-8] almost an entire chapter is devoted to praise of the physicians …

  • What does Luther call Ecclesiasticus [Sirach]?


  • According to Luther, what do both Scripture and experience teach about medical doctors?


Luther’s Works, Vol 46, pg. 254:

But I have already said too much about this; the preachers will be able to expand upon these points [about doctors and medicines] more fully, and show the people better than I can …

  • When Luther said, “Preachers will be able to expand upon these points more fully,” what was his expectation from these “preachers”?


Luther waffled over some biblical books about whether they should be canonical or not (canonical vs. non-canonical Scripture).  In Luther’s Works, Volume 33, pg. 110, he wrote this about Sirach, comparing it with other books of the Apocrypha and a couple of Hebrew texts he wasn’t sure should be canonical.

Although I could rightly reject [Sirach], for the time being, I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon.  For you poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon [Bel and the Snake], and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as non-canonical).

  • Despite his personal opinions, did Luther remove any books from the Bible [his German translation, Die Bibel]?


Here, again, we see another flip flop with Luther on Sirach.

… Holy Scripture is divine wisdom, not the wisdom of men….  For it is a well of such a kind that the more one draws and drinks from it [Holy Scripture], the more one thirsts for it, as Ecclesiasticus says (24:21): “Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more….” [Luther’s Works, Volume 4, pg. 319]


18, SpangenbergJohann Spangenberg, “Sermon 15,” from Fifteen Funeral Sermons, published in 1553.

Spangenberg (1484-1550) was a colleague and friend of Luther and did much to popularize Lutheran theology.  His book, The Christian Year of Grace, he cast light on the practical life of preaching and teaching at the time of the Reformation.

For Lutheran pastors, books of the Apocrypha for sermon texts were nothing strange (when we still used Bibles with the Apocrypha intact in them).  For example, the prolific Lutheran hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt (17 hymns in Lutheran Service Book!), often used the Apocrypha in his writings.  In a funeral sermon for Joachim Schröder in 1655, Gerhardt quoted from Wisdom 2:6, Sirach 18:22, and Tobit 1:4!

Here are excerpts from Spangenberg’ funeral sermon.

“All living beings become old like a garment, for the decree from of old is, “You must die!” (Sirach 14:17).  Just like the green leaves on a beautiful tree, some fall away, and some grow again.  Thus, it also happens to people.  Some die, some are born again.

In this passage, the Holy Spirit works through Jesus Sirach like a decorative painter.  He masterfully molds us for the death and resurrection of humanity as no painter can do, grasping both death and resurrection in various plants of the earth.  “Like flourishing leaves on a luxuriant tree, one falls off and another sprouts …” (Sirach 14:18).

  • When are we ultimately “born again”?


  • How did Spangenberg view the book of Sirach?


The Holy Spirit is such a fine and masterful artist that he crafts a picture of life out of all the things the world regards as death.  He shapes death and resurrection for us out of such lowly things as … flowers and leaves, so that we might confess that it is not dying and ruin when we die and are buried in the earth, but it is instead being sown and planted.

  • Sirach imagery for green leaves, where some fall away, and others grow again, as a metaphor for what?


… we must decay and gain a better body.  On the Last Day, we must be raised again from the dead and live eternally, just as Christ our Lord spoke of the grain of wheat in John 12: “For if a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain.  But where it dies, it will bear much fruit….”

It happens the same way with the body, the flesh: it dies and is buried, decomposes, decays, and perishes in a variety of ways, is resurrected again and emerges and lives again in an inexpressible clarity and magnificence. For the righteous shine in the kingdom of God like the sun (Matthew 13) and will live eternally with God….

… Thus, God also wants to give us the means by which we might persist in faith, love, hope, and patience to the end and, at last, take part in eternal life with Christ.  Amen.


18, Martin ChemnitzMartin Chemnitz (1522-1586), An Enchiridion, 1569

Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), called the “the second Martin,” helped keep the Lutheran Church from fracturing after Luther’s death.  He is considered the second greatest theologian in the Lutheran Church and systemized theology as Luther never did.

An Enchiridion was his “little book” for pastors, covering a pastor’s call into the Ministry, the Word and Sacraments, rites of the Church, and expected pastoral conduct.

The office of a minister of the church

33 What, then, is the office or work of the ministry of the church?

Scripture says in Sirach 38:24-25: “The scribe’s wisdom (for the kingdom of heaven) depends on the opportunity of leisure.  For only the one free of other matters can gain such wisdom for himself or impart it to others.  How can one become wise who handles the plow … ?”  The office of a minister of the church, therefore, is that he diligently study the holy Scriptures and give himself to reading them (1 Timothy 4:13).  Moreover, he must labor in the Word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17) to feed the flock of Christ and the church of God (1 Peter 5:2, Acts 20:28), serving by preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and using the keys [of the Kingdom] …

  • What does Chemnitz call Sirach?


  • How does he use the passage from Sirach to teach what pastors must do?


18, SelneckerNikolaus Selnecker (1530-1592), “The Doctrine of Predestination”

A Lutheran hymn writer and theologian, who helped author the Formula of Concord in the Lutheran Confessions with Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andrea.  In 1573, His systematic theology, Institutio Religionis Christianae, was published.

Third, God teaches nothing to make us anxious or fret over our salvation.  No, he only wants us to listen to him, according to this, “I am the Lord, your God.”  Sirach 3:22, “Reflect on what you have been commanded, for what is hidden is not your concern.”  And the Father sends us off to the Son, “Listen to him” [Matthew 17:5].

  • From Sirach, what does Selnecker tell the Christian to focus on concerning his salvation?


Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), Sacred Meditations

18, Johann GerhardGerhard is considered the greatest of the dogmaticians, systematizing Lutheran theology.  It is said that Gerhard was third (Luther, Chemnitz, and Gerhard) in the series of Lutheran theologians and after him, there was no fourth.  His Loci Theologici (Theological Commonplaces), with multiple volumes, is the most significant theological work of Lutheran orthodoxy after the Reformation.  Today, we look at a more personal work of his meant for both pastor and laity alike, Sacred Meditations.

Sirach 2:18: Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of men; for equal to his majesty is his mercy, and equal to his name are his works.

The mercy of God is universal because he loved all the world (John 3:16).  “The world is full of the mercy of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).  For this reason, God’s mercy is indeed greater than heaven and earth—it is just as great as God is (Sirach 2:18) for God is love (1 John 4:16).

  • What comfort do we derive from God’s mercy being so great?


Sirach 10:9: How can dust and ashes be proud?  Even in life, the human body decays.

Angels are humble, and arrogance is deeply disdainful to them who are not ashamed to minister to tender little children as well (Matthew 18:10).  Why then is earth and ashes proud (Sirach 10:9), since heavenly spirits humble themselves to such a degree?

Meditate, O faithful soul, upon the miserable condition of man, and you will easily flee from all temptation that leads to arrogance (Sirach 10:9).

  • If sinless angels have humility, how should we be toward God, who are but “dust and ashes”?


However much one values the salvation of his soul, so also should hate the sin of greed.  The greedy man is the most impoverished of all, for what he has fails him as much as what he does not have.  The greedy man is the most afflicted of all, good to no one, most of all himself.  “The beginning of all sin is arrogance; the root of all evil is avarice” (Sirach 10:15; 1 Timothy 6:10).


18, Bach Cantata 106J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Cantata 106, “God’s Time is Best”

Not only a composer and musician, Bach was also a great Lutheran theologian.  He served at Leipzig as the musical director and choirmaster of Saint Thomas’ church.  For a time, he wrote a cantata each week, of which 202 survive.  Today, we look as Cantata 106, which quotes Sirach.

In this cantata, Bach created contrasted the condemning Law with the life-saving Gospel.  The chorus sang the Law, which quoted Sirach 14:17: “The decree from of old is, “You must die!”  An ominous-sounding fugue struck the ears, but soon overlapped a soprano aria from Revelation 22:20: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

The soprano’s voice floated above the chorus, clear and distinct.  The chorus proclaimed the Word of doom but the soprano, representing Holy Mother Church, prayed for the gracious presence of Christ.  Bach distinguished the Gospel from the Law, bringing God’s Word to the congregation.


C.F.W. Walther (1811-1887)

Law and Gospel

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (called “Ferdinand”) was part of the original German immigrants who helped form the Missouri Synod and Concordia Seminary in 1839.  He served as Seminary President, President of synod, and pastor of several congregations in St. Louis.  (He suffered three breakdowns from overwork and exhaustion: 1840-41, 1860, and 1873.)  He led the publication of Der Lutheraner in 1844 and is most well-known for his evening lectures, Law and Gospel, later published into a book.18, CFW Walther

If you wish to be a faithful servant of Christ, you cannot possibly do so without striving and fighting against false doctrines, a false gospel, and false belief….  Even wise Sirach says, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.” (Sirach 2:1).

Let us then, my friends, likewise hold fast to the treasure of pure doctrine.  Do not consider it strange if on that account you must bear reproach just as they [Christians in times past] did.  Consider that the word of Sirach 4:28, “Strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you,” will come true in your case, as well.

  • In what two areas did Walther use Sirach to prepare the Christian for his spiritual battles?


18, Der LutheranerDer Lutheraner

Der Lutheraner, The Lutheran, was the German-language predecessor to the LCMS’ Lutheran Witness.

In the March 7, 1848, edition, Pastor Ernst Gerhard Wilhelm Keyl (who married Walther’s sister, Amalia) was encouraging husbands and fathers to read Luther’s Large Catechism.  He wrote:

Dear house fathers, lay aside for a while, perhaps a year, all the other edifying books, though not despising them.  Spend the small cost of $1.25 [about $45.00 in 2017 dollars] to buy yourself a Book of Concord to get acquainted with and to prize therein the treasure chest of the Large Catechism.  Surely, a year will not go by that this, next to the Bible, will become dearer to you the longer you read it.  For you, much longer, will joyfully “lodge under her boughs” (Sirach 14:26).



18, CPH Die BibelSirach in the Lutheran German lectionary in North America

The older, German Lutheran lectionary didn’t have an Old Testament reading, only an Epistle and Gospel.  So, on feast days, the “Epistle” reading would sometimes come from the Old Testament.  In our Concordia Publishing House German Bible, we find two readings from Sirach on these saint days:

  • Sirach 15:1-8: The Feast of St. John
  • Sirach 24:22-31: The Birth of Mary


The Lutheran Liturgy

Even today, with Apocrypha-less Bibles, we still find Sirach used as part of our Liturgy.

The Introit for Easter Tuesday, Sirach 15:3b-4a: He gave them to drink of the water of wisdom.  He will strengthen them; they shall not be moved.

The Introit for Trinity 18 (One-Year lectionary), Sirach 36:21-22a: Give peace, O Lord, to those who wait for you, and let your prophets be proven faithful.  Hear the prayer of your servants, according to the blessing of Aaron upon your people.


Link to the next Lesson.